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In 1906 the Pure Food and Drug Act made it illegal to dispense medicine without listing the ingredients on the bottle. Less than ten years later, the Harrison Narcotic Act prohibited opium and its derivatives (including heroin) in all but prescription medications. The particular dangers of heroin singled it out

even further from its less powerful cousins, morphine and codeine. Heroin production in the United States was outlawed in 1924. For some time after that, doctors were able to obtain imported heroin for use as a painkiller. However, in 1956 the drug was completely outlawed, even for medical use. As such, heroin was one of the first drugs to go from being used in medicines to being classified as an illegal substance.

Outlawing heroin promoted its use as a recreational drug. A post-World War II generation of young people, resistant to authority and eager to try new things, began experimenting with heroin and other opiates. One of them, William S. Burroughs (1914–1997), would go on to describe his experiences as an addict in novels such as Junkie (1953) and The Naked Lunch (1959). Illegal heroin gained popularity as a recreational drug in the 1960s and 1970s, drawing many artists, musicians, and actors into its grip. Some of them, like comedian John Belushi (1949–1982) and singer/songwriter Kurt Cobain (1967–1994), died during heroin highs. Others, like musician Eric Clapton (1945– ), successfully battled addiction.

In the early 1980s a new danger crept into heroin abuse. Addicts who injected heroin and shared needles already knew that they ran a greater risk of contracting HEPATITIS. But a new virus called AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) was found to spread quickly through shared needles, too. AIDS is an infectious disease that destroys the body's immune system, leading to illness and death. By the mid-1980s, public health officials were warning that AIDS was spreading at higher rates among drug addicts than in other at-risk groups. The addition of AIDS to the heroin addict's list of dangers accounts for part of the rise in emergency room visits related to heroin in the 1980s and 1990s.

For a time, the risk of AIDS lowered the use of heroin in the United States. But the introduction of purer doses that could be snorted or smoked has brought the drug new users. These users do not run the risk of contracting AIDS by using dirty needles. However, heroin use can lead to risky behaviors, like having unprotected sex, which can lead to AIDS. In addition, users still face all the other dangers associated with heroin, including its tendency to promote dependence. As abusers build a TOLERANCE to heroin over time, they become more likely to inject the drug, since this is the quickest way to achieve a high.

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